Experimental Surgery for Fibropapillomatosis

By Abbey Kunkle
With the increasing incidence of Fibropapillomatosis in sea turtles along the Texas Gulf Coast, Gladys Porter Zoo's new Assistant Veterinarian Dr. Debra Carboni, D.V.M. recently performed experimental surgery on our newest patient, Quik the Atlantic green. He was picked up by the owners of Quik Stop, a local bait and tackle shop, when they noticed him entangled in fishing line near the South Padre Island Jetties. Once the tangled line was removed, we noticed some larger tumors under his flippers and identified the condition as Fibropapillomatosis.

Quik comparisonFrom left Quick the Atlantic green recovering in our ICU. Right Quik exhibiting signs of Fibropapillomatosis with tumors under his flippers. Photos by Caitlin Bovery and Brian Thruow


Fibropapillomatosis (FP) is a condition in sea turtles caused by a herpes virus and characterized by large internal and external tumors that compromise a turtle’s ability to swim, see, feed, and escape from predators. The disease interferes with the basic functions of their daily life, which can ultimately cause death.

Over the past 80 years, Fibropapillomatosis has been been documented in sea turtles throughout the world, and in 2010, was reported for the first time in Atlantic green turtles in Texas. These green turtles depend on Texas waters and seagrass for essential habitat, and a 2014 study of sea turtles along the Texas Coast, "Tracking the Incidence of the Fibropapilloma Virus in Texas’ Green Sea Turtle Population" by the University of Houston's Environmental Institute of Houston, indicated that 26.8% of green turtles exhibited FP tumors at varying levels of affliction.

Research is continuously being conducted to gain a better understanding of the disease, how it is contracted, and how to treat it. Sea turtles with FP have historically been euthanized or released back into the wild, but during Quik's recent surgery, Dr. Carboni removed many of Quik's large tumors on his body as well as some smaller tumors from his eyes, which are detrimental to the health of the turtle, diminishing their abilities to see and to thrive in the wild. We are currently monitoring Quik and caring for him in our ICU and are hopeful that this cutting edge surgery will have a lasting effect on his health.

Although research remains to be done on the recurrence and spread of the disease, we hope to improve the quality and longevity of life, one turtle at a time!

FP tumors tend to be vascular and can cause extreme blood loss when removed. To help us further our capabilities in treating and decreasing the incidence of Fibropapillomatosis in sea turtles, we are in need of access to a C02 laser, to aid in cauterization of incisions during surgery.

We are reaching out to our awesome community who support us in so many ways! If anyone in the medical community has access to a C02 laser and would be willing to provide services, lend, or donate a laser, this would dramatically improve our capabilities in treating turtles with Fibropapillomatosis! Please contact us by email at brian.thurow@seaturlteinc.org or by phone at (956)761-4511.